Microsoft HoloLens 2 hands-on: A new generation of holographic computing

HoloLens 2 with phone
HoloLens 2 with phone (Image credit: Windows Central)

MWC 2019

Microsoft's HoloLens 2 may not yet represent the big push into the consumer space some may want, but that doesn't mean it's not the "next big thing," at least for those a specific type of worker.

A day after Microsoft's announcement at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain – an event the company has eschewed since the demise of Windows Phone – I got to try the wearable holographic headset. What a difference four years make.

HoloLens 2 design and motivation

Before my test run with HoloLens 2, I sat with Greg Sullivan, Director of Communication, Mixed Reality, to talk about the road from the first version to version two, which is due to launch later this year.

Sullivan tells me that all decisions around HoloLens 2 were made to satisfy its customers, those who already have deployed HoloLens 1 in the field and gave feedback to its engineering teams. Three main areas for improvement were identified as priorities for the company:

  1. Make HoloLens 2 more immersive.
  2. Make HoloLens 2 more comfortable.
  3. Bring more out of box value, with less time required to develop applications.

To point number one, Microsoft is making HoloLens 2 more immersive through what it calls "instinctual interaction." The driving theory is that computing – especially holographic computing – should not rely on training, but rather fundamental modes that we are already familiar with in the real world. Want to move a hologram? Just grab it, or tell it to follow you as you walk.

Through the ability to track hand movements, users can now interact with the holograms directly. The same goes for eye-tracking, something Microsoft is quite familiar with after adding it to Windows 10 back in 2017.

To make HoloLens 2 more comfortable Microsoft's Human Factors Group went to work on developing tests to quantify and quality comfort; that's where the "three times more comfortable" line comes from made during the announcement.

That's no bluff, either. When I wore HoloLens 2 it was like putting on a comfortable hat on – just a snug, comforting feeling with weight evenly distributed. It was not just something I could tolerate, it's enjoyable to wear – like a baseball cap. This experience is the opposite of the original headset, which was only comfortable for 20 to 30 minutes at most.


HoloLens (Image credit: Windows Central)

Even better? The visor flips up now. For field and first-line workers (FLWs) that trick is going to make HoloLens 2 much better to wear for an entire shift.

For number three, Microsoft announced dozens of software and hardware partners to make HoloLens more useful to companies. Instead of spending months to develop custom applications, the resources, APIs, and dev components will make it not only easier to create tools for the headset but faster too.

Related to making things easier, Alex Kipman, who oversees and invented HoloLens at Microsoft, committed Microsoft to three new principles for HoloLens that he articulated during his presentation in Barcelona. From Kipman:

  1. "We believe in an open app store model. Developers will have the freedom to create their own stores."
  2. "We believe in an open web browsing model."
  3. "We believe in an open API surface area and driver model."

These changes weren't lost on Tim Sweeney, the fiery CEO of Epic Games, who has verbally bashed Microsoft in the past over its Universal Windows Platform (UWP) and "closed" garden of an OS. Even he endorsed HoloLens as the future of computing, committing Epic Games to support in the future (that announcement was also a big hint to consumers and gamers that yes, someday, HoloLens will be for you, too).

HoloLens 2 combines all of these things in a piece of technology that is years ahead of what Microsoft's competition is doing. But even there, Sullivan reminded me Microsoft does not see other groups like Magic Leap, Google, or Apple as competitors. and Kipman is ardent that he believes in mixed reality and that the more players, the better the product will be for everyone.

HoloLens 2 a real business

An example of a custom HoloLens 2 built for the construction industry.

An example of a custom HoloLens 2 built for the construction industry.

My big take from Microsoft's latest version of HoloLens is the company has moved from "someday" to "this is now a reality," regarding holographic computing. Granted, these are still early days, but it's clear Microsoft has done something that no other company has with mixed reality: sold it to companies as a solution for workers who don't always have access to computers.

The idea that a company that makes medical-grade devices for hospitals can now make a custom HoloLens 2 for doctors or nurses means Microsoft doesn't have to do that. Instead, a third-party company can make the headset and resell it to medical clients. Repeat that for construction companies, engineers, assembly-line workers, and other specialized industries, and you get the idea. That sort of micro-economy is part of this larger HoloLens ecosystem that is proliferating.

Everyone has a PC now (and smartphone), but many workers in the world are not information workers; they don't work behind a computer in an office. Instead, they're out in the field, servicing equipment, putting airplanes together, building cars, drilling for oil, operating on patients, and more. HoloLens 2 could be the computer for them.

This goal for Microsoft echoes the Cofounder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, who dreamed of a PC in every home. Microsoft achieved that, but the company is now answering the question of what comes next. HoloLens could be that answer for millions of workers. And some iteration of the tech could eventually even reach the much larger consumer audience, and maybe sooner than you think.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.

  • I still think this would make a great HUD for pilots, shipmen, truck drivers, and train engineers. They won't need LTE as their respective vehicles have wi-fi built-in already and the fact they are stationary for the bulk of their day means they can keep the Hololens plugged into a power supply, likely making the device a little lighter.
  • For a simple HUD, you could make do with a pair of much more discreet, standard-sized glasses; Hololens would be overkill...
  • hell, why even use glasses? For a simple HUD, you could make due with a film placed on the windshield and a projector below it. Suddenly, you're no longer tied to what instruments you can place around your face. If you're stationary, the benefits of a wearable headset computer start to fade away. Just make the whole cabin part of the computer.
  • The back of the device totally ruins it, no matter if it's only for enterprise, soldiers that kill people or whoever. It's just ugly and big. Good thing is they have decoupled the internals in this back part from the device somehow isolated, so its easy to be shrinked independently in the future. Thoughtful. Still ugly and bulky. I don't care how light it is.
  • Lol, man people complain about anything. "my cellphone is 2 grams too heavy" "HoloLens 2 has internals, wtf" love the internet
  • And let's not forget people the absolute most important thing in tech is aesthetics.
  • Instagram generation, all they worry about is how they look to others 🙄
  • Company says "I have this spanking new Hololens device that'll increase your productivity, use it and increase my bottom line". Employee says, "No way. it's so fugly. I am not wearing it". Company says "OK, next".
  • It will still generate billions of dollars for Microsoft.
  • You are funny.
  • "soldiers that kill people" You mean those who risk life and limb defending you from savages who actually want to harm you.
  • @Daniel I understand that Microsoft is pushing this for field workers. But for a day to day person, what do you see if any for a reason to buy one of these. Would it just be cool for a couple months and then thrown to the side or could and everyday person be productive with this? Also why no LTE if they want this to be in the field? also why no phone communication. If I am working out in the field I would have to tether my phone for service then have to pull out my phone to call for more help if I needed it. Don't you think that would have been a better option to have those services included. Since that's the market they are pushing this for right now?
  • Hey, so quick response: Do I see any reason for a regular, non-dev person to buy this? No. Microsoft knows this, I know this, you now know this ;) It's super cool, but the usage for a non-industrial or non-dev user is minimal. Yesterday's announcements and partnerships will lead MS down the road to make it for consumers, but I can't recommend you to buy it today. Neither would MS. "Also why no LTE?" Great question that I meant to answer here, but will talk more on this week's podcast. TL;DR Of all the things companies asked for (see 1-3 in opening section) LTE was not one of them. Indeed, Microsoft says adding LTE to it would require significant redesign for the antenna, hit on battery, and other considerations that would have negatively impacted what their partners/customers were asking to improve. That's not to say someday it won't happen, but at least for now it was not a priority for the customers/companies using it today or what they wanted into HL2. Hope that helps, listen to this week's podcast on Friday for more discussion.
  • I have a feeling LTE will be reserved for the consumer edition whenever it is released as it is far less of a necessity for enterprise as they are more likely to have an active WiFi network within range to connect to. Or the resources to be able to implement said WiFi network.
  • LTE adds other issues like certification for different regions, bring telecom operators to the mix etc... This would also increase the product price.
  • When Nasa was racing to the moon, nobody was envisaging pocket calculators and Teflon baking pans etc. emerging from the technological advancements due to the space race.
  • This should sell a lot of Dynamics 365 subscriptions. That seems to be the primary driver for this update. I suppose if you’re a General Electric, Dow Chemicals, ExxonMobil, Honeywell, or the like this is a great day for you. This is a splendid piece of tech, but I can’t help but feel though that every day Nadella sits as CEO of the once great leader in personal computing, Microsoft becomes a little bit more International BUSINESS Machines (IBM). Interesting to me even the ticker similarities. MSFT sits at $111 today and IBM $140.
  • IBM market cap: $126.9 billion
    MSFT market cap: $858.3 billion Since when do we compare companies by share price and ignore volume?
  • Fair point. This is kind of a fun little take you back moment... The 1984 Apple keynote and 1984 super bowl commercial for Personal computing. I guess we’ll see how Nadella’s gamble to spurn everything mobile and consumer (today’s “personal” computing) and to purposely become the next Big Blue works out for MS’ future market cap. Nothing against the HL2 though. Again... it’s a sweet piece of tech... if you’re working for any one of the Fortune 500 firms.
  • BTW market cap aside, their revenues are very similar. MS (Big Blue Jr.) sits at #30 on the Fortune 500, IBM (Big Blue Sr.) sits just 4 spots down at #34.
  • Well to be sure I do think your comparison with IBM is interesting - it's just that the market doesn't agree, at least not today. Plus, while I'm not a business historian, I believe MS's (profitable) offerings are a lot more diverse than IBM's ever were. Surely that's part of the market's valuation. Watching that old Apple keynote was fun, but remember that was the beginning of the end for the Apple PC market. The story of the 90's was Microsoft's total dominance, a story that continues, amazingly, to this day. And it's because of their corporate business. Apple's (relative) Mac resurgence in the past ten years is almost entirely on the back of its one true business, the iPhone. (You're not cool unless you have both.) But as Apple may be in the process of learning now, cool is not enough if you want to last as long as ... IBM.
  • 1984 was the beginning of the end for Apple PC? That's like saying birth is the first step in the march to death. Not discounting Apple and Apple II, but their push into the personal computer space launched in 1984. While they never had the volume success that others had they did fairly well and are still no slouch. iPhone just eclipses their PC so significantly it seems irrelevant. Apple's PC business still far surpasses MS's PC business. (remember that MS's PC business is Surface). *
  • MS's PC business *isn't* the Surface and the fact that you had to redefine it their business to qualify your statement makes that obvious. MS's PC hardware business vs Apple's hardware business, sure. But their personal computing business? Hell no. To try and make that argument is purposely misleading. Plus, I would say the Apple PC died with the PowerPC architecture. After that, it was just a 'normal' PC with a different OS. You can run Windows on current Apple hardware and the only thing stopping you from running MacOS on any other hardware is simply them locking stuff down. So, when Apple actually had hardware that was legitimately its own product? Yeah, that died a long time ago.
  • Yeah, their big ambitious gaming push is totally not for consumers. The same goes for their lite computing platform they've been developing for years.
  • And since you bring up Apple in response to a comment on market cap:
    MSFT market cap: $856.14 billion
    APPL market cap: $821.54 billion I can't say that I (or, rather, the market) agree that "Nadella's gamble to spurn everything mobile and consumer" hasn't paid off pretty well.
  • "This is a splendid piece of tech, but I can’t help but feel though that every day Nadella sits as CEO of the once great leader in personal computing, Microsoft becomes a little bit more International BUSINESS Machines (IBM). Interesting to me even the ticker similarities. "
    Long term goal: MS absolutely sees this as the "third wave" of computing even for consumers. They're smart enough to know though that pulling the trigger too early would be a bad move. Got to thread the needle. There is no value prop here for a $3,500 device for consumers. None. But, in the hands of business, enterprise, developers and hardware partners it lets HoloLens 2 breathe without the finicky nonsnsense of the consumer market, which is a lot about image, not substance. When HoleLens and the ecosystem are mature, prices of manufacturing have dropped, the tech has improved, etc. Microsoft is ready to pounce. That's literally the whole reason why the CEO of Epic Games - who hated on Microsoft for years was there. I can't stress enough how huge a signal that was from one of the industry's biggest consumer companies and Microsoft foes about the future of this platform.
  • To be honest, Tim Sweeney has partnered with Microsoft on Fortnite and in the past with Gears of war on Xbox. He obviously had plans for the EPIC store years ago and was worried about being blocked if MS locked down the PC to it's storefront. Him being on stage was a symbol of Microsoft's commitment to openness but from Sweeney's standpoint I think it had less to do with games in some distant future and everything to do with the unreal engine. To date unity has been the only option for enterprise devs that wanted a 3rd party engine for their apps.
  • I have to be honest.. when they brought Sweeney out, there was a definite air of 'Why am I out here?' They seemed to walk him out, he said a few words, and then walked off stage without showing anything. HoloLens 2 isn't a consumer product and it's unlikely enterprises are looking for games... As a developer, I'm stuck at this: the dev price actually went UP $500. If I developed enterprise solutions, maybe, but my focus is consumer software... so... I just can't justify the cost. I'd be developing for a market that consisted of wealthy devs and reaaaally early adopters. I suspect a lot of developers will be like me. Ah well, maybe Magic Leap will get their prices down to something less eyewatering.
  • Sweeney always feels like that, he isn't comfortable on stage. The last couple of years Epic has positioned Unreal Engine as not only for games but also movie production, and architectural and industrial visualization. So having UE work with Hololens doesn't have to involve games at all. It is a strategic move further into the enterprise sector where they are currently ahead of Unity but could quickly lose that lead without Hololens support.
  • Exactly! I don't see why everyone doesn't see that. Unreal wants to operate in the business space like Unity. Not just for games.
  • Microsoft is the most valuable company in the universe.
  • Earth, yea. Galaxy, probably. Universe? You sure we are alone?
  • Not only Dynamics 365, here is an example from 4 days ago:
  • Google tried to push Google Glass to consumers. It was hardware without a platform and no driving desire for it. It was a solution in search of a problem. That killed it. Microsoft is solving the problems that can be solved by this type of hardware first. Make the tech mature. Then it can slowly be pushed to consumers once people start realizing different things a consumer can do with it.
  • I note that Hololens is being further developed by MS for the US military at a cost of around USD480m. Is this a good idea to help people get better at killing? Only in gun mad America. Hololens might well be the best thing since sliced bread but aiding and abetting the military is just nuts. I really thought MS was better than this. Very sad.
  • It's an interesting conversation with a lot of facets. I'll just say the military and CIA and all the US govt use... Windows computers, and Azure. How tech gets repurposed and trying to prevent that to keep it out of the hands of "bad people" is a syphian challenge. But lasers used for cds and movie projectors are also used to guide bombs. 🤷‍♂️
  • Maybe they are also getting better at keeping their own people alive. For the record, I'm Australian, in favour of gun control and would be considered as leaning well left in America. I'm even fairly left in Australia.
  • I'm also Australian John and I suspect that your argument about keeping your own people alive is a bit of a furphy. Might we better off simply not enabling such developments. Damn, I'm starting to sound like a pacifist and am not one, really!
  • Did you ever consider that Hololense might in fact help them NOT kill, rather than kill? I don't even know if the tech will be used for troops in the field or if it will just help in repair/maintenance or logistics of missions, I mean it's jumping to conclusions that it will somehow help in killing. I think the truth is it would further prevent accidental killing of civilians, by better indicating targets, or maybe identifying when a person has a weapon vs toy truck, that kind of thing. This kind of tech will only help reduce unnecessary death, seeing it otherwise is weird.
  • Where are you from that companies don't sell their products to the military?
  • Having worked in the military industry at a previous job, I've learned that the best military action is one that achieves the task at hand with no shots fired, and nobody killed. Fog of War and Friendly Fire are real problems that get in the way of this goal, so technologies that help bring more information to the battlefield are technologies that reduce casualties.
  • That's somewhat shortsighted to assume all technology that comes out of the military is to kill people. Sometimes its to save people. Protect people. Or simply make things more efficient. I saw a demo of someone wearing a hololens repairing a piece of field equipment by following a 'step by step' overlay from the hololens. suddenly someone in the field with no experience can fix things that in the past may have been required to be sent to depot.
  • What is the FoV (field of view) on the H2? The FoV on the original was way too small
  • Around 45° per eye. Adds up to around 70° total. Horizontally, vertical FOV is 25°. So it's better but far from good.
  • Hopefully these don't get lost in space in a catastrophic explosion.
  • Daniel- What is your take on the 2x field of view? Does it address the complaints people had with the original to a high enough degree?
  • It needs to be doubled again to become a consumer device and then triple its battery runtime to become a consumer device that people will want to buy. You are looking at five more years before that is happening and there will be no complaints anymore. V2 is like an A4 paper held 30 cm from your eyes. But battery went from 3 hours on V1 to 2.5 hours on V2. No doubt because resolution is higher, thus more content has to be rendered.
  • "But battery went from 3 hours on V1 to 2.5 hours on V2. No doubt because resolution is higher, thus more content has to be rendered."
    Where'd you here that? The OS is even finished for HL2 hence they were not giving any battery estimates out at all (I asked, but at the least they expected parity). The whole switching from x86 to ARM thing would seem to have a big effect as well.
  • Read it at a different tech website in their hands-on.
  • which site? i'm curious to see where they got their numbers as well.